BRATTLEBORO -- Ryan Finch and Emily Shipman may live hundreds of miles apart and come from different backgrounds and upbringings, but both women have a shared passion for creating and helping businesses become sustainable.
Because of that shared desire in helping business owners, specifically farmers, Finch and Shipman enrolled in Marlboro College Graduate Center.
After months of hard work, both became alumni last month and each has taken a different path to pursue their goals.
Finch, who received her Masters of Business Administration in managing for sustainability, said she took what she learned at Marlboro to start an urban farm in Raleigh, N.C.
"This is all about reconnecting people to their food supply," she said of the one-acre farm. "Health has always been a primary value for me and there isn't a better way to promote eating good food, farming it and getting people Vitamin N -- nature."
During Shipman's final project, before she earned her Masters in Managing in mission-driven organization, Shipman worked with organic, fair-trade certified sugar cane farmers in Paraguay.
Similar to Finch, Shipman, of Bradford, wanted to ensure farmers were making the most of their land.
"We wanted to know if their certification was actually improving their livelihood," Shipman said.
According to Shipman, her research, collected from the interviews with the farmers, showed that being organic and fair-trade
Her report ultimately landed her a full-time position with Sustainable Food Labs located in Hartland.
"This is my dream job," she said. "I've wanted to do something like this since I left undergrad. Marlboro provided me the opportunity to get some experience behind my interests so I was a more viable candidate to businesses like the Sustainable Food Lab."
The course material provided new learning opportunities but Shipman said it was her relationships with the faculty and her fellow classmates that was the most valuable part of her experience.
"You can put something on the list service, any general questions, like what software would work best to interview farmers, and you get nearly immediate responses," she said. "It's a really strong community that looks out for everyone."
Both Shipman and Finch said that many people in the United States have no idea where their food comes from or who created it.
"Agriculture, especially food, is essential to our lives," Shipman said. "Two thirds of the world's farmers are small farmers. Working with them to get involved with larger viable markets can provide significant change. We need to do something about it so human beings can continue to live on this planet."
Finch echoed Shipman's point.
"People don't know what real food is, how it's grown or what seasons are best for fruits and vegetables," she said. "The industrialized food systems are made up of huge processed foods. There is no Cheetos plant."
Since Finch got involved with the urban farm the abandoned strip-mall adjacent to the plot of land has seen a bakery, a restaurant and a small grocery store move in. Each of the businesses now also buy some of their produce from what's grown right next to them.
"Businesses are often thought as a separate entity, that they're able to exist on their own without thought of their impact to the surrounding area," Finch said. "This farm has changed a lot of people's perceptions and we've been able to sell to other restaurants in the city, delivering what we grow by bicycle."
During her time at Marlboro College Graduate Center, Finch, like Shipman, said it wasn't just the curriculum that helped her get the job she's always wanted, but the faculty and staff.
"The people who serve at Marlboro are all really in line with what it takes to promote sustainability," she said. "I couldn't have done this without Marlboro."
Josh Stilts can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.